KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Lunchtime at Bayou Bay Seafood House on Chapman Highway in South Knoxville used to be a lot different:
"We'd fill up with suits and ties for lunch - all the business people would come, the judges, the lawyers. That bridge closed down and it was such an inconvenience for them," said owner Andy Cantillo.
Cantillo estimated sales are down 25 percent because of the bridge closure. Other South Knoxville businesses are also suffering.
"People have the perception that it's difficult to get over here. They don't know about Gay Street and where to go," said Jennie Ingram, co-owner of the Disc Exchange.
But there's finally a light at the end of the tunnel. TDOT said the bridge will reopen to traffic on Thursday, October 17 at 12:01 a.m. - almost four months ahead of schedule.
"We've worked very hard with Britton Bridge to get it done. We know how important this road is to Knoxville and South Knoxville. We put all our resources on the bridge and we're happy to get it open early," said John Schroyer, TDOT Commissioner of Transportation.
TDOT said all of the structural work on the bridge is finished, and there will be rolling road blocks in place while work on things like lights and bike paths is finished. Still, a lane of traffic will be open in both directions, something South Knoxville business owners have been waiting a long time for.
"I hope that on the 17th when the bridge opens, everybody comes back. But I know realistically, it's probably going to be a slow process. They'll come back and get back in the habit of coming this way," said Cantillo.
"I hope that we can get back to where we were with our sales. People will come back here and know it's easy to come here and they'll come back over here and buy their compact discs from us," said Ingram.
TDOT estimates the entire project will be finished in June.
TDOT said the total cost of the project should be around $31 million - $6 million more than it originally budgeted for. It said the extra cost came when workers found structural problems, delaying the project.
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